Her cancer treatments were just five minutes away from home. Then her hospital closed
This story is one of three in a series from KVPR's latest coverage of the closure of Madera Community Hospital. For past coverage, click here.
MADERA, Calif. – Emelia Guzmán lives in a small, dimly lit apartment in downtown Madera. In her living room is a wooden mantle that holds a row of shining gold trophies for soccer and track and field.
With a big smile on her face, she proudly says her children won the awards in school growing up.
Guzmán, 52, is a single mom, and says she did her best to provide for her three children. But things have gotten harder in the last few years.
In 2019, she noticed a lump in one of her breasts. At first she ignored it. She didn’t want to worry her kids.
But she was hospitalized after collapsing one day while working in the garlic fields.
“The doctor performed a biopsy, and I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. I started chemotherapy right away,” she explains in Spanish.
Guzman’s oldest son, 22, started delivering food through Doordash in Fresno to help pay the bills.
“My kids, they always told me not to worry about the money and just focus on recovery,” she says.
Nearby treatments now far away
After a few long months of treatments and surgeries, Guzmán went into remission. She still takes medications and monitors her symptoms.
“I’m hoping to reach five years in remission,” Guzmán says. “The doctor said that’s when I’ll be considered cancer-free.”
Guzmán used to be within walking distance of her treatment. Sometimes her son would drive her – it would take about five minutes.
Now, to get to the doctor she needs to see, the drive is at least 40 minutes north to Merced where she’s secured appointments.
But she has not been able to make it in for an ultrasound.
The closure of Madera Community Hospital in late December left thousands of people without access to regular checkups, emergency services and specialized care.
The hospital shut down after a failed merger with Trinity Health.
Since then, Madera County residents have been forced to travel outside county lines for hospital care.
Gaps in services
In the 60-mile stretch between Merced and Fresno, there are no emergency rooms or a general hospital like the one that closed – leaving thousands of people like Guzman to either delay medical care or skip it altogether.
Local organizations have been trying to help the community find medical resources. But they say it’s been a challenge.
“The closure came as a surprise,” says Fidelina Espinoza, a community organizer with the Binational Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities.
“A lot of people were left without any kind of services,” Espinoza adds. “Folks have no other option than to travel to receive treatment.”
And transportation can be hard to find. For many residents, traveling to a neighboring county is difficult without reliable vehicles or public transit.
Some Medi-Cal recipients can get rides to visit a doctor either through bus passes or taxi vouchers. Guzmán has called for those services to get to appointments in Merced County, but she says they’re unreliable.
She missed three appointments in February because her rides got canceled last minute.
CalViva Health is a health care plan that operates under Medi-Cal that provides transportation services for people like Guzman. The provider did not respond to KVPR’s request for comment by deadline.
A familiar pain
Most alarmingly, Guzmán feels her pain returning. She’s worried about what the symptoms could mean, because she has felt the pain in the past.
“It's in my chest, all the way down my back,” she says. “The last time I felt this was when the doctor found cancer.”
Since the start of the year, county officials and hospital staff have been searching for ways to get the hospital back up and running. But for people like Guzmán, the wait is excruciating.
Meanwhile, merely two miles away from her home, the hospital where she used to be seen sits closed.
“There’s so many people here who are in a similar situation,” Guzman says. “We need a hospital in Madera.”
This story is part of the Central Valley News Collaborative, which is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation with technology and training support by Microsoft Corp.